Friday, September 30, 2011

More Reed Hadley

Earlier this year, TCM started showing serials in the 11:00 AM Saturday time slot. I think they started with Buck Rogers, before going to Ace Drummond and a couple of Zorro serials. The previous Zorro serial is ending at 11:00 AM tomorrow, with a new one called Zorro's Fighting Legion beginning at 11:30. I haven't seen any of the Zorro serials before, and the one thing about this that looks interesting to me is the fact that the part of Zorro is being played by Reed Hadley.

You may not recognize the name, although I've mentioned him a couple of times before. You've probably heard his voice, since he provided the voiceover for many of the Fox docudramas of the middle to late 1940s, from The House on 92nd Street and continuing through Boomerang! and The Iron Curtain. He did some on-screen acting too; I mentioned this when I blogged about The Dark Corner back in May 2010.

I don't think I recognize any of the other names in the cast.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

At least the heist is interesting

If you want to see a heist film that goes down the tubes in a shocking manner, you could do worse than to watch Deadfall, tomorrow afternoon at 2:00 PM on the Fox Movie Channel.

Michael Caine stars as Henry, a cat burglar who is currently in a rest home taking a cure for alcoholism. He's approached by Fé (Giovanna Ralli), who is there on behalf of her husband Richard (Eric Portman). It seems as though Richard wants Henry to come out of retirement and take part in one more heist. There wouldn't be a film if Henry said no, so we know that he's going to agree after the requisite back-and-forth. Fast forward to the south of Spain, where the heist is supposed to take place. It's a big one, but Richard isn't so sure it will go off well. So he wants to start with something smaller so that he can see whether he and Henry can work well together. At this point, we get the big heist scene, which does go off well, and which is the one highlight of the film. Unfortunately, a good heist film should either have the heist as the climax at the end (Ocean's Eleven), or should have a good plot after the heist (The Asphalt Jungle or Rififi). Deadfall has neither of these.

After the first heist goes off and they're planning for the second heist, the movie really gets bogged down. Henry falls in love with Fé, which in theory should provide for a suitable plot conflict. Here, though, there's also the plot conflict regarding Richard's past. Henry has correctly figured out that Richard is in fact gay, and that Fé is little more than a beard. Richard also has a Nazi past, however, and it's that which is fuzzier and which is supposed to provide for more mystery. Instead, it just makes the movie tedious, and the final reveal of Richard's true past elicits little more than a giant yawn. This tedious love triangle also results in having the second heist be rushed.

As for the first heist, the one that gets shown in its entirety, it's got a very interesting presentation. The heist was planned for when the victim (some government functionary) and his family are off to one of the family members' performances at a concert. The heist is presented almost without dialog, intercut quite intensively with scenes from the concert. The thieves get away from the side of the estate and pass by the victims just as the victims are driving up the main road near the front of the estate, oblivious to the fact that they've just been robbed. (Some will note, however, the the concert is only one song.) The other interesting thing is that the concert is conducted by John Barry, who also composed the music. This is one of the few times he actually shows up in a movie. That having been said, you should probably recognize the Barry music before he shows up even in the credits: the title song sounds remarkably similar to the vocal theme to From Russia With Love at the end of that movie.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

In among the Will Rogers shorts

I should have spotted this a bit earlier, but the historically interesting British Agent is airing overnight at 3:30 AM on TCM. This is a movie that, like Seven Cities of Gold a few weeks back, takes a look at a period of history that doesn't get too much of a look in Hollywood pictures: the Russian Civil War.

Leslie Howard plays the titular British agent, a man who gets stationed to the British Consulate in Petrograd in mid-1917, just around the time of the October Revolution that was to bring the Communists to power, at least in Petrograd. That revolution, and parts of the civil war, have gotten a mention in several movies, such as Rasputin and the Empress or Knight Without Armour. But the more detailed background behind the early Soviet Union and why it wound up fighting a civil war tends to get overlooked. Part of the reason for the first revolution in February 1917 is that Imperial Russia was losing the war against Germany, and there were people who wanted to sue for peace. Eventually the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk was signed. More or less good for Russia, or at least good for that section of Russia that wanted out of the war. But it was problematic for the western allies, as it removed one of the two fronts on which Germany was fighting the war. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Howard was first in Petrograd as a low-level functionary at the Consulate. But with the October Revolution, it became too dangerous to keep a full embassy staff; indeed, the opening scene of the movie features the revolution coming to one of the embassies in the form of gunshots coming through the windows while all the westerners are partying. Anyhow, Howard gets left behind as part of a skeleton crew, but also with an important mission: prevent the Soviets from signing that treaty with Germany. Along the way, however, Howard meets a woman (Kay Francis) seeking refuge during one revolutionary night. He falls in love with her, and it's too late before he realizes that not only is she Lenin's secretary, and she's extremely loyal to the Communists. The thing is, the westerners, as part of trying to stop the treaty, have taken the side of the Whites in the civil war, albeit without the official backing of their countries.

British Agent is an interesting movie, although it's rather muddled at times. I like that there's a fairly intelligent look at history and what surely must have been a complicated period for the western diplomats. Some of the historical parts of the plot seem accurate; there were certainly western forces helping the Whites. (One interesting example, not mentioned in this movie, is the Czechoslovak Legion, which had to escape the Reds by going east, eventually making their way to Vladivostok and thence to America from where they eventually got back to Czechoslovakia.) There's also reference made to the assassination attempt on Vladimir Lenin. But the movie races through events a bit too rapidly, and also glosses over why these westerners would take up with what are more or less urban guerrillas. The love story seems forced, and its resolution is a bit of a copout.

All in all, British Agent is a movie that's too rarely seen, and should have a bit more attention than it does, even if it does have susbtantial flaws.

I never met a short I didn't like

TCM is spending tonight looking at movies that have been preserved in part through the help of the Library of Congress. For me, one of the more interesting things will be a series of shorts starring Will Rogers. Rogers made a tour of Europe in 1927, and he was followed around by newsreel photographers from Pathé. The result was a series of about a dozen one-reelers in which we see Rogers in various parts of the continent, making his trademark one-liners. These quips are of course in intertitles, as this was still 1927 and they couldn't lug around all the equipment needed for the primitive sound technology.

TCM is showing four of the shorts at various times in the overnight hours:
Will Rogers Winging Around Europe at 3:15 AM;
Will Rogers Exploring England at 5:00 AM;
Will Rogers Romaning the Emerald Isle at 7:00 AM; and
Will Rogers in Dublin at 8:45 AM.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Schedule change

Several times, TCM ran a trailer for Lonely Are the Brave, which was scheduled to air at 11:30 PM ET tonight as part of the final week of Kirk Douglas' turn as Star of the Month. However, Encore currently has the broadcast rights to the movie, having shown it over the weekend. So, TCM moved up two of its movies and inserted a repeat. The current schedule is:

Spartacus at 8:00 PM (as was originally planned);
Seven Days in May at 11:30 PM (moved from 1:30 AM);
The Way West at 1:45 AM (moved from 3:45 AM);
The Strange Love of Martha Ivers at 4:00 AM.

Douglas' time as Star of the Month continues into Wednedsay morning, with The Heroes of Telemark, which I blogged about back in June 2008. Since the 2008 post, the movie has gotten a DVD release; or at least, TCM is claiming you can buy it through their website.

Monday, September 26, 2011

George Raft, 1901-1980

George Raft and James Cagney in a production still from Each Dawn I Die (1939)

TCM is spending today marking the birth anniversary of Edmund Gwenn, so to be different, I'll point out that today is also the birth anniversary of George Raft. Raft was born to immigrant parents in Hell's Kitchen in 1901 and got to know much of the stereotypical petty crime and gangsterism that shows up as a trope in many of the New York-set movies of the 1930s. Raft, after becoming famous, would go on to have close relationships with any number of more prominent Mob types, something which was one of the subjects of the 1961 film The George Raft Story. Raft himself claims the movie had a lot of inaccuracies (what Hollywood biopic didn't?), but his acquaintances with mob figures are well-known. Raft eventually spoofed this memorably in Some Like It Hot where he memorably played Spats, the gangster looking for Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis.

Perhaps it's because of his personal experience that Raft became so associated with playing gangsters; they're roles that would have come naturally for him in those days before Method acting. Raft played Paul Muni's henchman in Scarface, which I blogged about back in January. His best role, however, is probably in the relatively pedestrian Each Dawn I Die, where Raft plays a gangster in prison with the wrongly-conviced journalist James Cagney; the two wind up teaming up together to deal with the brutal prison conditions as well as to try to help Cagney prove his innocence.

One thing that's often overlooked about George Raft is that he started out as a dancer; in one of his earliest movies, Taxi!, Raft plays a man in a dance contest who gets knocked down by James Cagney.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

A Pete Smith Specialty

I usually download the monthly TCM schedule and base my blogging and vieweing off of that. One of the disadvantages of this is that the shorts are programmed much closer to when they air, so they don't show up in the monthly schedule. I notice that tonight at about 11:50 PM (after the remake of Back Street), TCM is showing a 1941 short called Flicker Memories.

This is one of the many many shorts produced by Pete Smith at MGM in the 1930s through to the mid 1950s. Smith's shorts are generally comedic in nature, with all of the footage being silent except for Smith's narration which contains his brand of humor, often consisting of a mildly acerbic commentary. Smith made shorts which are more like a documentary in that he was filming real people doing real things; in these shorts, the people are usually doing things that are either close to "Believe it or Not" territory or otherwise exotic. Other shorts look at the foibles of modern life, such as 1939's Let's Talk Turkey, about carving a Thanksgiving turkey.

I'm not a huge fan of Smith's narration which I find somewhat irritating, but the more documentary shorts are certainly interesting time capsules, while there are funny moments in the fictionalized shorts.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

You could fill Madison Square Garden!

I hadn't looked at the Fox Movie Channel schedule before writing my brief post about tonight's TCM repeats. If I had, I would have noticed that The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing is airing tomorrow morning at 8:00 AM on the Fox Movie Channel.

The movie is based on a true story that happened about 50 years before the movie was made; that is, the first decade of the 20th century. Ray Milland plays Stanford White, who was a prominent architect in New York City whose buildings included one of the previous incarnations of Madison Square Garden. He meets showgirl Evelyn Nesbit (Joan Collins) and is taken by her. But, he's got two problems. One is the fact that he's got a wife of his own, and will have some difficulty in obtaining a divorce. The other is that there's another suitor for Miss Nesbit. That other suitor is Harry Thaw. Thaw was born in Pittsubrgh to a coal baron, and is in New York trying to get himself societied up if you will. He sees Nesbit and is taken by her as well. After all, who wouldn't be?

Much love triangle stuff follows, during which time we discover that Harry is quite the jealous man. He wants what he feels is rightfully his, which is both a place in higher society, and Evelyn. Thanks the the previous Mrs. White, Stanford is eventually unable to have her, leaving Harry to marry her. They don't all live happily ever after, however. Stanford still wants Evelyn, and when he tries to see Evelyn again, it sends Harry into such a jealous rage that he kills Stanford! Worse, Evelyn eventually has to testify at the trial.

It's real-life material that should make for a great story, but unfortunately The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing falls a bit flat. Part of it probably has to do with the fact that the real-life Evelyn Nesbit was still alive at the time, aged only about 70; not only that, but she served as an advisor for the movie. The presumptive result is that the film is slanted in the direction Evelyn Nesbit wanted it slanted. That's a bit of a shame, because the real story should be better. Not only that, but it's obvious that Fox went to great pains to try to make a good movie. It's filmed in Technicolor and Cinemascope, and has a look as though a great deal of attention was paid to the set design and the costumes. As for the actors, they all give creditable performances despite being hamstrung by a subpar script. If you only remember Joan Collins from her days on Dynasty, which is how I first got to know her, you might be surprised to discover that she's not a bad actress.

Another night of repeats

I've commented before that I don't particularly care for Maurice Chevalier, so I'm personally a bit disappointed that Love Me Tonight is this week's TCM Essential. Oh well, you can't please everybody all of the time, and there's no way TCM is going to appeal to just my interest. I've blogged about the two movies that follow, however, and if you haven't seen either, they're both worth a watch.

First, at 10:00 PM, is Hallelujah, I'm a Bum!, in which Al Jolson plays a bum who happens to be on the in with the Mayor of New York.

That's followed at 11:30 PM by Hollywood Party, a fun little Hollywood-on-Hollywood movie in which Jimmy Durante hosts a wild Hollywood party to promote his new "Schnarzan" movie.

Friday, September 23, 2011

The White Shadow update

Back in August, I mentioned the discovery of the first three reels of the 1923 movie The White Shadow, written and edited by Alfred Hitchock. The surviving footage got a showing at the Academy last night, and the article comes complete with a picture from the movie. Obviously, the announcement of the movie's finding came well after they originally found it, because there's no way anybody's restoring a film in six weeks. For a little more information on how the surviving footage ended up in New Zealand, you can read this article from the Daily Telegraph (London).

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Sellout

I overlooked the presence of The Sellout on the TCM schedule until it was too late to blog about it before the movie aired. Thankfully, it's available on DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive.

Walter Pidgeon stars as Haven Allridge, the editor of a paper in a medium-sized city that could be Anytown USA. He goes just out of town to visit his daughter (Paula Raymond) and her prosecutor husband (Cameron Mitchell). "Just out of town" happens to be across the county line, however, and on the way back, Haven gets pulled over for speeding. He left his wallet at the office, and gets sent to the county jail, which he discovers is an incredibly corrupt place, where the inmates mete out their own form of justice in the form of a kangaroo court. All of this is done with the approval of Sheriff Burke (Thomas Gomez). But what they don't know is that they've picked on the wrong man. There's an old adage that you never mess with somebody who buys his ink by the barrel, and Haven uses that to his advantage, writing a series of editorials decrying the corruption in the county.

However, he doesn't realize just how corrupt it is. He's gotten three dozen affidavits from people who would be willing to testify to the corruption, but his prosecutor son is reluctant to prosecute this particular case. And the county thugs are so brazen that they kill a driver who distributes the newspaper in one of their trucks. This causes non-corrupt city cop Capt. Maxwell (Karl Malden) to call in the state, who send a special prosecutor (John Hodiak) to handle the case. In the meantime, though, the corrupt county machine gets to Haven, who suddenly goes missing along with all the affidavits he had. Eventually he returns, but only to tell people he's not testifying and that he's gotten a job in Detroit, which is presumably quite some ways away....

The Sellout is one of thoe MGM message pictures of the early 1950s. Warner Bros. is generally the studio known for its social commentary, having made a series of hard-hitting movies back in the 1930s. By the 1950s, Louis B. Mayer had been pushed out at MGM, and new studio chief Dore Schary wanted to make some movies that had an edge to them. The problem is that most of these movies are a bit too obvious in making their point. We get it five minutes into Haven's experience at the county jail just how bad the sheriff is. And we know fully well that the story is going to have a relatively satisfying ending. But MGM had a stable of capable actors such as Pidgeon who gave a professional performance, even when the material was less than perfect. The result is a movie that's interesting if flawed. If the Warner Archive movies weren't so expensive relative to other DVDs, it might well be worth it to get a copy of the movie on DVD. To be honest, though, I think this is the sort of movie that probably ought to be included in some box set with other similar MGM films from the same time, such as Scandal at Scourie, which is airing tomorrow on TCM and also stars Walter Pidgeon.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

James Dean night

James Dean starred in only three movies before his untimely death. TCM is showing all three of them tonight:

East of Eden at 9:45 PM;
Rebel Without a Cause at midnight; and
Giant at 2:00 AM.

Now, you'll notice that the movies don't begin at 8:00 PM which is when prime time normally begins. That's because TCM is running a documentary on James Dean at 8:00. Now, as I've mentioned before, I'm not a huge fan of James Dean. I think one of the scenes that best shows my thinking on Dean comes early on in Rebel Without a Cause, when he's at the police station and his parents are more or less lecturing him. The first time I heard Dean's line "You're tearing me apart!", it frankly made me laugh. The delivery made me think of Estelle Harris playing George Costanza's mother on Seinfeld, which I have a feeling is not what was intended by any stretch of the imagination.

Maybe TCM could have shown sausage magnate Jimmy Dean as the bad guy Willard Whyte in Diamonds Are Forever again.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Hollywood on Rome on Hollywood

Earlier in the month, TCM showed The Bad and the Beautiful as part of its Star of the Month salute to Kirk Douglas. A movie with similar themes is coming up in this week's Kirk Douglas movies: Two Weeks in Another Town, early tomorrow morning at 5:15 AM.

Douglas stars as Jack, an actor/director who is in a sanitarium after succumbing to alcohol and the effects of a nervous breakdown. However, he's needed! A movie production by an American studio over in Rome is going badly wrong, and Jack's help is needed to put things back in order and help the production be completed. So, Jack heads over to Rome, only to find that all the same things that drove him to drink and gave him the nervous breakdown in the first place are waiting for him in Rome.

First, there's the director he has to work with, Maurice Kruger (Edward G. Robinson). Maurice hasn't been in the best of health lately, and matters aren't being made any better for him by the fact that his wife Clara (Claire Trevor) is in Rome with him. She all by herself would be enough to drive a man to drink, and you can't help but think that she's having a terrible effect on her husband. The fact that he ultimately has a heart attack is pretty good evidence of this. This forces Jack to take over directing duties. If he had enough on his plate before, now it's even worse.

Then you have Carlotta (Cyd Charisse). She's Jack's ex-wife, and if Clara drove Maurice to a heart attack, you can see why Carlotta would have driven Jack to drink. She's a party girl, and available, and seems to want to patch things up at least a bit with Jack. And when Jack reaches his breaking point after he has to start directing, you know that Carlotta will be there to satisfy Jack's needs.

To top it all off, there's Davie (George Hamilton), the young American who is the star of the film-within-a-film. He's Jack as Jack was in an earlier time, which means none too easy to work with as well as having taken the stardom that was once Jack's. Jack repays Davie by spending time with the woman who just happens to be Davie's girlfriend.

The result of all this is a movie that's entertaining if not particularly good. Unlike The Bad and the Beautiful, this one plays out as though you've got a bunch of Hollywood types dishing out disguised gossip on other Hollywood types, and if you don't know what they're talking about, you're losing a good deal of the movie. Perhaps back in 1962 everybody "got it", but 50 years on, I sure don't. I wouldn't be surprised if other "Hollywood on Holywood" movies were playing off that same backstage theme, but the other ones hold up better on their own. Two Weeks in Another Town does have some positives, however; most notably is the Italian location shooting in lovely wide screen and color.

As with most of the movies I blog about, Two Weeks in Another Town is worth at least one viewing, even if it's not the greatest.

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Producers

Today happens to be the birth anniversary of producer Joseph Pasternak (1901-1991), woh was responsible for the production of a whole bunch of musicals at Universal in the late 1930s, specifically those starring Deanna Durbin. Then he left for MGM, and from about 1943 on produced a substantial number of musicals for them.

It's easy to overlook the work a producer does (or, I should say, did back in those days). I think this is especially true because of the idea of the auteur, and the number of people who seem to think that if a director gets in a dispute with a studio producer, it's the director -- the creative type -- getting the shaft. And I think that's unfair to producers. People like Pasternak (or Irving Thalberg before him) must have known pretty well what they were doing, especially since Pasternak got the reins of musical after musical after musical.

In fact, I think a good example of the importance of a producer is showing up tonight on TCM, which is showing Invitation to the Dance at 12:15 AM. This was Gene Kelly's pet project, even though Arthur Freed got producing credits. Kelly wanted to make a movie which was entirely based on dance, with little or no dialogue. And the result is what we get in Invitation to the Dance, which tells three stories through dance. Kelly starred, wrote, and directed, and we get a fairly uneven movie. With a more active producer to give a fresh opinion on what was happening during the prodcution, perhaps there could have been a better movie made. (To be fair, Kelly's vision here is the sort of thing that probably would have worked better as two-reelers back in the days when studios were producing such shorts.)

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Cliff Robertson tribute programming

TCM has set aside its previously scheduled programming on Monday morning and afternoon to show seven movies starring Cliff Robertson, who died last week at the age of 88:

Picnic at 6:00 AM;
Autumn Leaves at 8:00 AM;
Underworld USA at 10:00 AM;
Gidget at 11:45 AM;
Sunday in New York at 1:30 PM;
The Best Man at 3:30 PM; and
PT 109 at 5:30 PM.

One that I haven't blogged about before but is worth mentioning is Underworld USA. In this movie, Robertson plays a man who, at the age of 14, saw his father get murdered by a gang of thugs. So he vows to gain revenge. What's the best way to do it? Well, that way might not be the way Robertson goes about it, but we wouldn't have such a good film if Robertson had selected some other way. What Cliff does is to become a criminal himself, so that he can move about in the same circles as his father's killers. In fact, Cliff meets one of them when he gets sent to prison. Working in the prison hospital, he finds that one of the patients, a man who is now old and dying, is also one of his father's killers. Cliff isn't content to let the man die a peaceful death, however. It's for a good (to him) reason: he wants information about the identities of the other three guys who did it. So, he roughs up the man and dispatches him a few days earlier than the man would otherwise have died.

So, Cliff eventually gets out of prison, which is where the real fun of the movie begins. Cliff begins to worm his way into the organization headed by the man responsible for Dad's murder all those years ago, without them realizing what's going on. Along the way, Cliff is helped by an older woman (Beatrice Kay) who, unable to have children of her own, treats Cliff as a sort of son as well as keeping dolls in her apartment. In fact, that apartment is the location for some of the film's more interesting set pieces. And then there's Dolores Dorn, playing the unwitting drug courier and moll with whom Cliff falls in love, which is what really gets him in trouble with the bosses.

Underworld USA is one of those movies like Brighton Rock that showed up once on TV quite a few years back and I watched because it sounded interesting. Unfortunately, since it doesn't show up so much, my memories on the movie are probably a bit hazy at points (such as the involvement of the police). But it's a movie that left me satisfied and wanting it to show up again so that I could recommend it to other people. And now it's on TCM again.

Saturday, September 17, 2011


On Wednesday, I mentioned the TCM premier of The Story of Temple Drake. It was an interesting movie, but I have to admit that everything I'd heard about it led me to believe that it was going to be more sordid than it turns out to be. In fact, after watching it, I found myself thinking about the earlier Safe in Hell, which has a lot of similar themes. This isn't to say that The Story of Temple Drake isn't a good movie. I really enjoyed Safe in Hell, and as such liked Temple Drake too.

I can't really say the same for the Carry On movies that aired on TCM last night. I had never seen any of them, either, but had heard about the broad humor and the copious use of double entendres. Instead, I got a watered-down version of something like Are You Being Served?, at least as far as the least-common-denominator comedy goes. I suppose these are one of those things like all those beach movies of the early 1960s here in America. Not parrticularly good, but there are a lot of people who remember them with a fond sense of nostalgia.

Friday, September 16, 2011

The curtain is a macguffin

After you're finished watching Seven Cities of Gold, switch over to TCM and wait for a little bit. At 12:30 PM you can watch the fun disaster The Cobweb. The movie can be summed up in one sentence: Doctors and patients at a mental hospital spend two hours arguing over new curtains for the library. But there's so much more to this movie.

The thing is, the draperies themselves are really secondary to the plot, or more accurately the intermeshing sub-plots. The fight over the curtains is really just a convenient rod on which to hang all of the characters' other problems. And God knows that the doctors here have just as many problems as the patients. First up is Dr. McIver (Richard Widmark), the new managing director of the institute. He's one of those "modern" 1950s doctors who has ideas that doctors of the past would consider unorthodox. One of those is that the patients should engage in a little art therapy by designing the aforementioned new curtains for the library. This is natuarlly opposed by the previous director, Dr. Devanal (Charles Boyer). Devenal reminds us of Leo G. Carroll's character in Alfred Hitchcock's Spellbound, who doesn't like that his job is about to be taken by the man Gregory Peck is impersonating.

That's not the only problem, of course. Dr. McIver is in a loveless marriage to Mrs. McIver (Gloria Grahame) who thinks that the good doctor is neglecting her in favor of his job. On top of that, she's good-looking to the point that when she goes by the hospital, the male patients notice her. In order to try to get her husband to notice her, she, on hearing about the need for new curtains, arranges to purchase expensive curtain material from back east, not realizing how much having the patients design the curtains means to her husband. That's not the only problem between husband and wife. There's also the new lady doctor, Meg Rinehart (Lauren Bacall). She's a widow, having lost her husband and child in a car accident. But she's ready to start loving again. And she sees Dr. McIver having marital problems, and thinks that trying to form an emotional bond with him might be a good thing.

Add to all that one other person wanting a say in the new curtains: Victoria Inch, a parsimonious accountant played by Lillian Gish. She doesn't care much about the new drapes, as long as they're cheap. A mental institution isn't a cheap place to run, and this one needs every penny it can get. So why spend extra on curtains? Who cares about the patients' feelings on the curtains, anyway? On top of this, Victoria has ears, and figures out all that's going on among the various staff members.

There's a good movie somewhere in The Cobweb, but the movie that actually got made isn't quite it. There's so much focus on the curtains that everybody seems over the top, to the point that you wonder whether the patients are the ones who are in need of psychiatric help. But the movie is saved from being terrible by being so over the top. It's the sort of movie you can laugh at how much of a mess it is.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Que Serra Serra

A movie looking at a period of history that never got much attention from Hollywood is showing up tomorrow morning at 10:00 AM on the Fox Movie Channel: Seven Cities of Gold.

The scene is Mexico in the middle of the 18th century. There's a legend of gold deposits to the north and west, in what would now be Baja California and the US state of California. (The movie is set some time before the Zorro movies.) A group of Spanish soldiers led by Captain de Portola (Anthony Quinn) is sent out as part of the various expeditions to find that gold. With them for religious reasons is Fr. Junipero Serra (Michael Rennie). They don't find any cities of gold, but Serra insists that they set up a fort which will allow him to do the missionary work that is his real mission.

At this point Seven Cities of Gold becomes a bit formulaic. You know that there are going to be the cultural clashes between the white men and the natives just as there would be in any western; one of the white men (Richard Egan) falling for a native woman (Rita Moreno), which you know will cause serious problems; and the fort coming under serious threats from the natives.

Seven Cities of Gold has a fair bit going for it, notably the fact that it's set in a lesser-seen era. There are the Zorro movies, and a lot of movies about the colonial US or the English colonies in the Caribbean (these latter movies because they allowed for pirates and swashbuckling), but little about the Spanish expeditions to the US southwest. Also well-presented is the Richard Egan subplot. As for the word "well-presented", the movie is greatly helped by its use of Technicolor and Cinemascope, making it look much prettier than earlier period movies. On the bad side of the ledger is the fact that Quinn and Rennie's characters aren't that much worth caring about and the previously-mentioned point that the movie more or less hews to a formula.

Still, Seven Cities of Gold is one that's quite rarely seen, and like most movies, deserves one viewing at least.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

House of Strangers

I said over the weekend that I could write all the time about remakes and never run out of material. And wouldn't you know it, there's another original coming up, for which I've already recommended the remake. That original is House of Strangers, airing tomorrow morning at 8:00 AM on the Fox Movie Channel.

The movie starts out with Max Monetti (Richard Conte) getting out of prison and going back the the place he worked, a bank that was founded and built up by his now-deceased father Gino (Edward G. Robinson). The bank has since been taken over by Max's three brothers, who are none too happy to see Max. They try to buy him off and get him to leave town, but instead, he goes back to his parents' old house to recall the past in a flashback.... If this sounds familiar, it's because it's pretty much the same opening that you saw five months ago in Broken Lance.

Having seen Broken Lance, we can guess more or less what's going to happen in House of Strangers. Gino Monetti came from the old country, and has started a bank serving his fellow immigrants, that he's built up into a fairly nice concern. The only problem is, Gino doesn't quite follow modern banking practices, which means that when the bank inspectors come, there are bound to be problems. All four of the sons are working for the bank, although the only one with a really good job at the bank is Max, who went to law school and is doing some practice on the side as well as handling the bank's legal affairs. As for the other brothers (Luther Adler, Paul Valentine, and Efrem Zimbalist Jr.), they're glorified tellers, and geting a salary that befits a glorified teller. Adler (playing brother Joe) is particularly unhappy about this, as he's got a social-climbing wife who wants a better social status. Seeing Gino coddle Max while treating the rest of them like dirt is just too much. Max is engaged, but has started taking up with socialite Irene (Susan Hayward), and that's just something you don't do in an Italian family.

So, when the bank inspectors do come, Joe tries to "protect" Gino, but is really coming up with a scheme that will make Max the fall guy and get Gino's ownership in the bank handed over to Mom, from whom Joe and the other two brothers can easily get the ownership. It's to this atmosphere that Max comes home. Irene more or less stuck by him while he was in prison, and she's urging him to go west with her and get away from the bad influence of his family. But Max might just want revenge.

There are some differences between House of Strangers and Broken Lance, the biggest being that all four sons have the same mother, which removes one of the conflicts that would be added to Broken Lance. Spencer Tracy and Edward G. Robinson are both excellent actors, and handled their characters well. As for the sons, it's really only the Joe and Max characters who count; the other two brothers come off more as pawns of Joe's. I don't particularly care for Susan Hayward's role (not her acting: just the way the role is written); she seems entirely too financially independent and a convenient means of driving the plot. Overall, though, House of Strangers is a surprisingly little-known movie from the late 1940s studio system that's worth a viewing.

Temple Drake

Tonight sees the TCM premiere of The Story of Temple Drake, a movie based on William Faulkner's story Sanctuary. It's airing at 8:00 PM, and is one that I'm looking forward to as I've never seen it before. Apparently it was out of circulation for a long time, and there were substantial rights issues in bringing it to TV. I have no idea if it's any good, but it'll certainly be interesting to watch!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Because when you think "romantic comedy", you immediately think "Kirk Douglas"

Kirk Douglas is TCM's Star of the Month for September, and his movies are airing every Tuesday in prime time into Wednesday morning. This week sees some of his more famous movies that I've blogged about previously. But early tomorrow morning, however, is a lesser-known one that's quite an odd turn for Douglas: Top Secret Affair, at 6:30 AM.

Douglas plays two-star General Melville Goodwin, who has just been appointed to a commission on the peaceful use of atomic energy. This ticks off magazine publisher Dorothy Peale (Susan Hayward): the commission was her baby, and she had been pushing for a prominent industrialist to get picked for the job. And she's not happy that the President is going over her head on this one. So, she comes up with a devious plan: dig up some dirt on the general, and print a magazine article which will so eviscerate Goodwin that there will be no choice but to appoint somebody else. With this in mind, Peale invites Goodwin to her mansion, but finds two problems. First, it's going to be difficult to find any dirt on the seemingly squeaky-clean Goodwin. Second, and just as bad, she's beginning to fall in love with him. This budding love means that she might just not print the article after all. That is, until she discovers that the general isn't quite as in love with her as she is with him. This enrages her even more, to the point that she finds that he may have done something pretty bad during the Korean War. The truth would set the general free, but the problem is that the truth was only revealed in a top secret report.

Top Secret Affair is a strange little bird, in that Douglas especially isn't the likeliest candidate to play the male lead in a romantic comedy. To be honest, though, most of the comedy is provided by the executive assistants to the two leads. Hayward's is an editor played by Paul Stewart, while Douglas has an adjutant colonel played by Jim Backus. Douglas and Hayward tend to let everybody else try to be funny around them, and in that they're as competent as the script allows. The script has some serious shortcomings, though, notably the first attempt to sully the general's reputation (which involves an attempt by Dorothy to drink the general under the table), and then the congressional hearings that form the climax of the movie. It all adds up to a movie that's interesting by a good deal further from perfect than a lot of Douglas' other movies. If I were going to recommend a Kirk Douglas movie airing tonight for people who haven't seen one before, I'd suggest something like Ace in the Hole (10:00 PM) or The Bad and the Beautiful (midnight) before this. But then, most you you hae probably seen the well-known Kirk Douglas films; for people like you, one viewing of Top Secret Affair is certainly worth the time.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Reassessing 42nd Street

Yesterday's movie viewing for me was re-watching 42nd Street, a movie I've already seen several times but watched again just because it's so much fun. This time, however, a few things stuck out.

Obviously there weren't any medical privacy laws back in 1933. But I'm surprised that a doctor would be so indiscreet as not only to tell Warner Baxter's character of his medical condition at the producers' office, but to do so by basically leaving a message with the producers' secretary. This is a marked contrast with another 1933 film, Dinner at Eight, where the doctor is very private in the way he lets Lionel Barrymore and Billie Burke find out that Lionel's character is dying.

I probably should have paid closer attention to the scenes of the dancers practicing. But it seemed to me as if the moves they were doing in those practices don't show up in any of the big production numbers. Granted, the movie wouldn't be showing the entire "Pretty Lady" show, but all of the dance routines in the practices seem so anodyne.

As for Ruby Keeler, I know all the jokes about her being a lousy dancer. But then I watched 42nd Street again yesterday and relaized that "dancing" is even worse that I had previously thought. The gawky angular moves reminded me of some of the dancing Joan Crawford did in her earliest films, although Crawford wasn't really trying to pass herself off as a singer/dancer.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Cliff Robertson, 1923-2011

The death has been announced of Oscar-winning actor Cliff Robertson, who died yesterday one day after his 88th birthday. I've recommended several of his movies before, such as his performance opposite Henry Fonda in The Best Man, in which both play politicians with serious flaws vying for their party's presidential nomination. That's the movie that's pictured above But Robertson could also do melodrama, as we saw when he attacked Joan Crawford with her typewriter (cue the piano music) in Autumn Leaves. Also, Robertson even proved himself capable of a comedic turn, as he plays Jane Fonda's older sister in Sunday in New York. I couldn't find a good screencap or publicity still, so the best I could come up with is a lobby card:

September 11 and the movies

I don't care much for the overblown ceremonies that are going on in New York City and Washington DC today; any time there's a large-scale tragic event like the attacks of September 2001, I prefer to deal with it by getting away from the rest of the world. When Prince Charles' ex-wife died, for example, the massive public wailing quite frankly repulsed me.

Anyhow, I was thinking of travel and the movies, a topic I've covered before. In November of last year, I wrote:

Perhaps the most fun is in John Wayne's The High and the Mighty. Once the plane is stricken, one of the passengers panics, and fires off a gun! Now, it's bad enough by today's standards that he got a loaded gun onto the plane. What makes The High and the Mighty even more hilarious is that, later in the movie, the character overcomes his panic, at which point, the other passengers and crew give him back his gun.

Plane travel in older movies is glamorized, but what's forgotten is that it was also much more expensive, and a province of the wealthy. I think we're all better off for being able to move about the country freely, but that's not what I wanted to discuss in this post. After September 11, 2001, we've gotten such monstrosities as being forced to take off one's shoes; X-ray scanners that show you in something resembling nudity, and if you refuse that, pat-downs that many women have said feel much too sexual. Having one's shoes tested is certainly something that could be shown in an old movie, but I'm trying to imagine Joseph Breen allowing a sexualized pat-down to make it to the screen.

Many people I know in Europe are horrified (and I think not entirely without merit) at how much information the US government is asking for on people who will be flying to the US, as if any of this will really prevent another terrorist attack. At the same time, though, I'm reminded of a scene from The Day of the Jackal in which the French police do far more than just look at a hotel's register, with the implication that the French are being tracked much more than Americans of the time (the film is set in 1963) would have been.

And I can only imagine what today's authorities would have thought of Claudette Colbert's Ellie Andrews paying a little old lady to buy her a ticket on the night bus from Miami to New York in It Happened One Night. Obviously Colbert is an evil terrorist! Not only that, but she and Clark Gable get in a strange car with Alan Hale and take off, showing no ID whatsoever! And then there's her first husband King Wesley, who's going to fly that autogyro into a building. Terrorists all! Waterboard them!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Ah, those British teens

I've mentioned Hollywood's "generation gap" movies a number of times in the past, and how the squares making the movies seem to be totally out of touch with the teens of the time. I wonder how different things were in the rest of the world. The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner is airing tonight at 8:00 PM on TCM as this week's Essential, but I don't know how realistic it is.

If you've seen the trailer that shows on TCM, you've heard the quote from the narrator that this is a film about "boys and girls who take life as it comes, and do-gooders who wish they wouldn't". The boy here is Tom Courtenay (actually 24 at the time), playing Colin Smith. Colin is the oldest son in a working-class family in which the father dies, leaving the mother with a small insurance payout which she fairly quickly squanders. That, and taking up with another man Colin doesn't like, leaves Colin disillusioned, taking up in a series of petty crimes with his male friend and cavorting with the girls. Colin unsurprisingly eventually gets caught for one of the crimes, and gets sent to a reformatory for this.

The do-gooder is Michael Redgrave, playing the governor of Ruxton Towers, the reform school to which Colin is sent. Ruxton Towers is a typically dingy place, cold an functional, and entirely unpleasant for its unwilling residents. Redgrave is trying to do right by the young men, although he really has no idea what they want. He thinks that if he can find a skill at which the boys are good, it will serve them in trying to get a job once they get out of the reformatory; to be fair to him, this isn't so illogical. But of course the young men rebel. Eventually, he thinks that beating the rich boys from the nearby public school in the annual cross-country race might be a way to reach them, as they have a class-warfare mentality already. It's also a way to reach Colin, as he's shown a particular aptitude for running.

I have to admit that I don't know how well The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner represents reality as it was in the UK in the early 1960s. The black-and-white cinematography certainly looks real, though, much more real than what we were getting from studio-bound Hollywood films. And that's a huge plus in the movie's favor. On the other hand, I didn't care quite as much about the characters as the filmmakers would have expected the audience to. It's somewhat like the characters in Rebel Without a Cause who are rebelling just for the sake of rebelling. Colin has much better reason to rebel considering the way his mother treated him, but I still found it hard to have too much emotional attachment to his plight, either positive or negative.

The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner is still a worthy movie despite what I find as a flaw. I'm sure, too a lot of other viewers won't have the same problems I had; I think I've mentioned elsewhere that I have the same problems with the French New Wave films.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Laurel and Hardy Saturdays

I should have noticed last week that TCM has started showing two-reelers starring Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy on Saturday mornings. Last week saw the classic The Music Box; this week brings us Towed in a Hole at 9:00 AM Saturday. Being a two-reeler, there's not much of a plot. Stan and Ollie play a pair of fish mongers, when Stan gets the idea that perhaps they could make more money if they went out and caught the fish themselves before selling them. So they buy a boat that's a fixer-upper, only to discover that's a huge mistake. The boat they get makes the Minnow from Gilligan's Island look like a luxury liner. But it gives Stan and Ollie a lot of opportunities for their physical humor, and is worth watching, since it doesn't even run half an hour.

The latest round of remakes

So TCM is showing The Jazz Singer tonight at 10:00 PM. You know the groundbreaking movie in which Al Jolson tells us, "You ain't heard nothin' yet".... Oh wait; this is the 1950s version with Danny Thomas obviously making no room for daddy as he tries to become a jazz singer. I know I've mentioned the Jolson version before, and probably mentioned that there were three versions of the film, the last being the dreadful 1980 version starring Neil Diamond in the singing role. I remember when Diamond's songs from that movie were big hits on Top 40 radio. I don't know what that says about me or about the state of popular music in America in 1980, but probably neither is very flattering. By the same token, the other film soundtrack that was extremely popular at the same time was the soundtrack to Xanadu. I remember hearing the music and always wondering what the movie was about, and then actually saw the movie.

Of course, one doesn't need to look back 30 years to see evidence of Hollywood remakes. I could probably write a post every day about yet another Hollywood remake or rehash, and not run out of material for years. I'm sure you've seen the commercials for Contagion, and I finally read a review of it this morning. I couldn't help, however, but think of Panic in the Streets and The Killer That Stalked New York. The one thing that keeps sticking out from the Contagion ad is the camera shot that shows an oxygen mask being put on from the point of view of the person on whose face it's being put. That's a sort of camera shot they couldn't really do so well back in 1950, and yet, the older movies don't need such camera shots or special effects. They were able to tell a good story.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Nice to see you, Robert

It was good to see Robert Osborne sitting down with Cher to present four of her favorite movies, even though it was recorded months ago. I only stayed up for the first two selections, but I thought Cher made quite good points about why she selected the movies she did. That, and I liked her opening comment about writing down movies to select and quickly coming up with a list of about 60 films; I'm sure that if I were ever a Guest Programmer (I have a face for radio, but not the voice to match), I'd have to choose from a similarly high number of movies.

As for Cher, I particularly liked the point about normally thinking of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in the formal wear -- the top hat and tails for him and the gown and heels for her -- and that it's interesting to see Astaire in a navy uniform. Granted, I thought he looked out of place in it. But that's certainly not Cher's fault. As for Hobson's Choice, I think Cher was once again right that we don't normally think of David Lean as having done "little" pictures like this; once again, it's good to see such a lesser-known picture. That, and Hobson's Choice is certainly one that's got a lot of charm. I would also think, not having seen the introduction, that The Big Street is not the sort of movie most people would think of when they think of Lucille Ball. As for Barbara Stanwyck in Lady of Burlesque, well, she did everything, even having played a nightclub singer before in Ball of Fire. But is such a character the first thing people would think of when they think of Stanwyck?

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Cher and Cher alike

Tonight sees the return of the Guest Programmer to the TCM lineup, and this month's Guest Programmer is the Oscar-winning actress Cher. I haven't seen any promos for it on TCM, but with the two recent power outages and the US Open tennis going on, I haven't been watching TCM quite so much in the past week and a half. I don't know if it's been mentioned whether this was recorded before Robert Osborne went on his "vacation", or whether somebody else sat down with Cher. At any rate, she has an interesting selection of movies:

The Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers musical Follow the Fleet at 8:00 PM;
Charles Laughton doing subtle comedy in Hobson's Choice at 10:00 PM;
Lucille Ball in The Big Street, a movie I recommended a month ago, at midnight; and
Barbara Stanwyck in Lady of Burlesque a movie based on a novel written by Gypsy Rose Lee, at 1:45 AM.

As always, I'm interested in seeing the Guest Programmer's reasons for picking some of these movies. The first two seem particularly different enough to be interesting paired together. That having been said, for some reason I thought I had blogged about Follow the Fleet before; in fact, I was confusing it with the Eleanor Powell musical Born to Dance, which also has navy-themed musical numbers. I actually don't think I've seen Follow the Fleet before.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

I see tall people!

One of the great "bad" sci-fi classics from the 1950s, Attack of the 50 Foot Woman, is airing today at 4:45 PM on TCM.

Allison Hayes plays the title role, although she starts out the movie normal-sized. She's an heiress trapped inside a loveless marriage, with a husband (William Hudson) who's cheating on her, currently with Yvette Vickers. Worse, the husband is telling the mistress that he'll be able to get the wife out of the way somehow, by having her declared insane. Since she's already spent time in a sanatorium this should in theory not be too awful difficult to do. It doesn't help the wife's case that she's making things easy for her husband. One night, in a fit of rage, she goes out for a drive on the back roads, where she sees some sort of UFO, and a giant human-looking alien (giant only courtesy of terrible special effects) coming out of the UFO. So far, so good, but she makes the big mistake of telling her husband! Surely she should have realized that he was trying to get her committed, and that nobody would ever believe that she saw this giant alien.

Of course, if she didn't tell her husband, we wouldn't have a movie; or, at least, we'd have a very different movie. And besides, we in the audience know that she's really telling the truth. In a movie like this, the truth will out, too. Eventually, our wifely heroine gets in a heated argument with her husband, which leaves her sick in bed, and the husband thinking he's got an out. Except that this is a police case, and they want to keep him and the mistress in town for questioning. That, and our heroine is going to make a recovery of sorts, helped by that alien. That "help" involves turning her into a giantess like him, so that she can gain her measure of revenge....

Attack of the 50 Foot Woman has a fairly poor plot, and fairly poor acting, which both serve to make the movie a good one to have a laugh at, even if that wasn't the filmmakers' intention. But what's really hilarious is the lousy special effects, which I referenced above with the first appearance of the alien. When he first makes Hayes a giantess, we don't see her in her 50-foot glory for quite some time. Instead, all we see is a giant papier-mâché hand sticking up out of bed. (How the entire body could fit in the upstairs bedroom is only one of the many plot holes as big as the characters.) And then there are the images of Hayes walking through town wrapped in just a towel serving as a makeshift bra and blankets or sheets for a skirt. In fact, a bra and skirt for a 50-foot woman would have to have a circumference in the 20-foot or more area, something no normal household towel and blanket does. But it's not as if they could show her naked.

If you like movies that are so bad you can't help do any but laugh at them, you'll love Attack of the 50 Foot Woman.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Out of Touch

So a thunderstorm came through overnight, caused a transformer fire, and knocked out fire for ten hours. That, combined with the power outage from Hurricane Irene and one of the movies that aired over the weekend, left me thinking about being out of touch with the world. No, not the sort of out of touch seen in some of the generation gap movies of the 1960s, but the sort where you can't be reached.

In The Finger Points on Saturday, a kep point in the plot involves Richard Barthelmess' character not being able to be reached by phone because he's not at his apartment. A few years back, I was watching Alibi at my parents' house early one morning after shovelling them out after a snowstorm, an dther ewas one point where one of the characters (I think Chester Morris' character) wasn't answering the telephone, to which my father joked, "Maybe they should call him on his cell phone."

In fact, I've seen a number of people suggest on various web boards that it was common in the past to have plot points involving people unable to be reached by phone, and that this is a problem that would easily be solved today by the ubiquity of cell phones. I suppose that's true if you have unoriginal writers. In the case of The Finger Points, I think the Barthelmess character didn't wan't to be reached, as he and his girlfriend were going to be running off together. If he'd had a cell phone, either it would have been turned off or he simply wouldn't have taken the call. That's not at all uncommon if people are in restaurants or at the movies or, for something that shows up a lot more in today's films, in the middle of love-making. (Unless you're one of those kinky people who likes texting during sex.) And if you're trying to find somebody who's been kidnapped by triangulating the location of their cell phone between the nearest towers, I suppose a bright criminal would get around that (and this would also prevent the phone from receiving calls) by placing the phone inside a Faraday cage. Or just throw the damn thing in the river.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Fat City

Twenty-some years ago when I was a teenager, the local newspaper's TV listings said that the PBS station was going to be airing the movie Fat City. The title sounded interesting, so I stayed up for the 11:00 PM or 11:30 starting time, only to be assaulted by the sight of a paunchy Stacy Keach in just his undies getting out of bed and getting ready for the day. I didn't need to be assaulted by this, and I would have had to stay up close to 1:00 AM to see the end of the movie, so I said the heck with it and went to bed, which is probably for the best, as I don't think this is really a movie that the younger set will understand. But, I remembered the title, and when it finally showed up on TCM a few years back, I sat down and watched it. Fat City is once again back on the TCM schedule, airing September 5 at 6:00 AM ET.

The aforementioned Stacy Keach plays Billy Tully, an aging boxer whose career is on the decline, as if it were ever even on the ascendancy. Billy is living in a dingy hole in the wall in Stockton, California, hoping that he might one day get a chance at another fight, and training half-heartedly while living a hand-to-mouth existence. On the first morning we see him, Billy goes to a local gym where he meets young Ernie (Jeff Bridges), a greenhorn who likes boxing and is too naïve to have been ground down by the world of boxing yet. Billy thinks Ernie has some ability and takes him to the gym where Billy would practice if he could afford it. The rest of the movie deals with each of the two men trying to manage their personal lives while getting their boxing careers going.

It's not much of a plot, but then, Fat City is much more of a character study. In as much as it focuses on these people, Fat City succeeds quite well. These are characters who start off the movie not having much going for them, and end the movie having just about as much, if that much. Back in the days of the studio system, Hollywood had a tendency to glamorize boxing with characters like Robert Montgomery's in Here Comes Mr. Jordan. When things weren't this glamorous, the seamier side of boxing was generally overlooked, as in They Made Me a Criminal or The Champ. Not so with Fat City. Boxers who can't make it anywhere near the top are brutally chewed up and spit out, left to eke out threadbare existences. This image is greatly helped by the fact that by 1972, when Fat City was released, it was much more common to use location shooting, making the sort of crappy apartments characters like these would live in easier to depict: just film the real thing. The living spaces here are reminiscent of movies like The Panic in Needle Park, or the beginning of Five Easy Pieces.

Even if you're not interested in boxing (and I'm not very interested in it), Fat City is still an excellent movie well worth watching.

Two years before Dear Heart

Several months back, I wrote about Glenn Ford and Geraldine Page finding love in the big city in Dear Heart. A movie with similar themes, made two years earlier, is Two For the Seesaw, airing tonight at 10:00 PM on TCM.

Robert Mitchum stars as Jerry Ryan, seen at the start of the movie living in a dingy walk-up apartment in Manhattan. In fact, he's a lawyer admitted to the bar in Nebraska, where he had a good, high-paying job working at his father-in-law's firm. Ah, but there's the rub. Jerry and his wife (never actually seen in the movie) don't love each other, and are filing for divorce. So Jerry has gone to New York to get away from his soon-to-be ex-wife. Jerry, being from Nebraska, is a bit of a square, and at a party meets the rather more bohemian Gitta Moscawitz (Shirley MacLaine). In fact, "bohemian" might be putting it mildly. She's struggling to make her way on Broadway as a dancer, but would really like to go into business for herself opening a dance studio. Now, this is Hollywood's take on New York, so you know that what happens next is that Jerry and Gitta are going to hit it off and fall in love.

But life isn't a bed of roses, and so we also know that Jerry and Gitta are going to spend much of the movie not having an easy time of it. First off, Jerry is only licensed to practice law in Nebraska: thanks to differences in state laws and the federalist constitutional system, one doesn't get licensed in every state at the same time. So Jerry would have to take the bar exam (or at least the New York portion) again to get admitted in New York, and that's a pretty big obstacle. Gitta's got problems of her own, notably that she seems incredibly needy, and is pressuring Jerry to go faster than he might want to. So the "happily ever after" might not be quite as happy as Hollywood normally makes it out to be.

That nod to realism is a plus in the movie's favor, but Two For the Seesaw has one big problem: namely, the presence of Robert Mitchum as the male lead. Now, don't get me wrong. I like Mitchum, but this isn't the sort of character that suits Mitchum's acting abilities, and for the whole movie he seems like a fish out of water, and not just because his character is a transplant from Nebraska. In fact, part of the reason I mentioned Dear Heart at the beginning of this post is because Glenn Ford is the sort of actor who could have played Jerry Ryan much more convincingly. Another would be the Gregory Peck from The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit. That's not to say Mitchum is terrible. To be fair to him, he gives a professional performance, if one that's flawed.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

William Holden tonight

Tonight's TCM Essential is Sunset Blvd., airing at 8:00 PN as always. William Holden plays the dope who gets the swimming pool he always wanted. Sunset Blvd. is the starting point for a night of William Holden's movies. I'm not certain whether I've done a full-length post on Sunset Blvd. before, although to be honest, it's the sort of movie most people are probably familiar with, and so isn't quite so deserving of a synopsis post. The movie I'm interested in is one I haven't seen before, Young and Willing, at midnight. The movie stars a young Holden (who would have been about 25 at the time) as one of a bunch of starving actors sharing an apartment in New York in order to cut down on expenses. The only problem is, this is a co-ed group of thespians! I wonder how they got this past the folks administering the Production Code.

Friday, September 2, 2011

September repeats

TCM is running a bunch of school themed movies this morning and afternoon and, unsurprisingly, I've blogged about a number of the better ones before. The picture at left is from Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1939), which comes up at 6:00 PM. (The movie was remade in the late 1960s, but that was as a musical and I don't think I'd recommend that version. Bright Road (12:45 PM) got a mention back in January 2010. For some reason, I thought I had blogged about The Corn is Green (4:00 PM) before, but the Blogger search says I haven't.

Prime time is followed by some mermaid movies. I haven't seen the first of them before, Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid (8:00 PM), in which William Powell meets mermaid Ann Blyth. (I wonder if he smacks her.) But I have seen Miranda (11:30 PM) before, and blogged about it too. In between at 9:45 PM, Joel McCrea and Frances Dee's son Jody McCrea meets the mermaid as a sub-plot of Beach Blanket Bingo.

And then, kicking off Saturday morning at 6:00 AM, is Five Star Final, another movie that I've mentioned several times without writing a full-length blog post. Having seen it before, I'm really looking more forward to the picture that follows, The Finger Points, at 7:30 AM.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Merchant Ivory Productions

Now that we've finished Summer Under the Stars on TCM, we get new features for the month of September. One of those is the films of producer Ismail Merchant and director James Ivory every Thursday night in prime time in September. Merchant Ivory is probably best known for all those sumptuously produced period pieces from the 80s and 90s that are set in the early part of the 20th century. I think I mentioned back when I blogged about Chariots of Fire back in 2008 that I thought it was one of the first movies to look at that era in the beautiful style that Merchant Ivory would later perfect. To be honest, Merchant Ivory came out with The Europeans about two years earlier, one of their first movies that really fits what we would probably think of today as the Merchant Ivory style, although it doesn't fit the period time frame, as it's set in the middle of the 19th century and is very much American and not British in its outlook; it's based on a novel by Henry James.

The Europeans is airing next Thursday; this week sees movies made at the beginning of their careers. Merchant was born in India but Ivory is American. After the two met, they went to India to make movies and it's these made in India movies that are showing on tonight's schedule. I have to admit that I haven't seen any of them, so I'm looking forward to them.